So it turns out that when I wrote yesterday about the Jane Brody squib in the Times yesterday, referred there by my friend Ron-the-voracious-reader, I had actually been referred slightly elsewhere, to the mainbar of what Brody wrote. She was reporting the release of a series of reports in the British medical periodical The Lancet that address the growing obesity epidemic.
I have to say that I found the headline on her story most interesing: "Attacking the Obesity Epidemic by First Figuring Out Its Cause." My point of interest? It does not have only one cause, and attacking the obesity epidemic will require acknowledgement of that.
It is a many-headed monster, driven by forces including genetics, blood chemistry, emotional trauma, eating disorders, laziness, and the profit motive, just to name a few. Not only could any one of those be the primary cause of one person's obesity, in many cases more than one of them is.
To point the finger at any one of them — which neither Brody nor the researchers do but is not uncommon in, say, headlines and throughout popular culture — is to continue to bungle the fight, because even if, say, sugary sodas were banned, or if all advertising of junk food to children were barred, the problem would not disappear, and the people who fought those changes would say, "see, we told you."
Often, the food-industrial complex riffs off that idea, selling tripe such as "if you added a 2-cent tax, kids' calories would hardly be reduced and the problem would hardly be resolved, so why pick on soda?" If any ingestible ever deserved to be picked on, it is sugary soda, which should have tobacco-style warning labels saying "Completely devoid of redeeming value." But that's just an aside.
Anyway, beyond the headline, the story and reports are standard issue: We are a lot less active than we used to be. For approaching a half-century, the food industry has created and endlessly expanded the convenience food category, larding all of it with added sugar, fat, and salt, which we have genetic predispositions for. We are bombarded with marketing designed to make us eat more, and it works.
All true, but none of it breaks ground. Nor do the measures that the researchers propose: I think soda taxes are a no-brainer, as one of the researchers is quoted to say. I think that we shouldn't allow marketing of any sort, junk food or otherwise, to children under 8, any more than we allow "fire" to be shouted in a crowded theater. I wouldn't object to more education about nutrition, though c'mon, people know that an apple is a healthier chance than apple pie. All fine tactics.
But the solution is more basic. We — each of us, or enough of us to alter our collective course — have to start caring. We have to practice better nutrition, which for many Americans means even including nutrition in their food choices, never mind making it top priority all the time. To my observation, most people think that junk food is fun (Let's celebrate. Let's have cake!) and that nutrition is for dweebs.
Schools wouldn't serve chicken nuggets and fries in the cafeteria if parents insisted they stop. If it cost more money to provide better food, parents would insist on it. Kids wouldn't eat so much fast food if their parents didn't buy it for them, while they were buying it for themselves.
Although it can be, this shouldn't have to be a case of what government is going to do to make the world safer for us. This case should be of our insisting on health for ourselves and our families.